Category Archives: Coffee Roasters

I was @ Colonna and Smalls: One of the Best Cafes in the UK

I know that my title sounds a bit daring, committing myself to using labels like “best….” but life is too short and when you have these wonderful experiences God throws at you, don’t restrict yourself to holding back and waiting for some other moment that may never come. So, after my philosophical rant, what do I mean ? I don’t think I’ve been this excited about visiting a cafe since Prufrock – see here. A bit of background – as holiday planner in charge; I was asked to find a nice English city to visit with other family members this past summer and initially we thought about Cornwall and what sprung to my mind was cornish pasties (if you’re not English, these are like a specialty short crust pastry pies filled with meat or veggies) and scones with clotted cream ( a cream typical of only this part of England), but whilst I had no aversion to these classical English cuisine gems, I thought if we’re are going to a place for three days, where will I get a great cup of coffee from. After some searching together with some cute boutique hotels, I wasn’t impressed – sorry Cornwall. So, I thought where else would I love to go, Bath – we’ve always wanted to go there, so why not now and suddenly like a flash I recalled that one of the cafes that I’ve always wanted to go in the UK, but never got the chance, was located there – Colonna & Smalls. Sold to the coffee lover!

Before visiting, what did I know about Colonna and Smalls ? Owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, two times UK barista champion, I had many times about his contribution to the UK coffee science, having read about him many times, mentioned by the coffee celebrities many times over. when my brother visited many months ago, he asked me “where should I go for coffee” and I only had one answer; “Colonna and Smalls”. Before visiting I sent Maxwell a tweet and he replied very quickly mentioning that he was looking forward to me visiting.

We got into Bath on a late Sunday afternoon and I found out that their shop was already closed. I found another cafe, ordered my flat white, which was nice and asked them where else they would recommend – there was only one answer and they were like”that’s another type of level” even though I knew that on Monday my first visit would be Colonna & Smalls. And so it was.

As you enter, it’s like you’ve waiting many years to enter this emporium – a homage to coffee. I’m not going to go into details about the decor, but just the experience; I had to ask this at the back of my mind “do people in Bath know how lucky they are to have this cafe in their city?”. As you walk to the back of the shop, there are books authored by Maxwell, his UK barista championship trophies and other trophies awarded to his staff, who are also well decorated (see their website for more, UK latte art champion, etc).


As you walk towards the brightly lit back of the shop, where all the action is located – there’s this oozing calm and air of professionalism, rarely found in other cafes – they are not here just to sell coffee but to make sure you have a great experience too.

Now the techie part.

First I noticed that all their coffee beans were pre-weighed in little metal looking bowls


Then I noticed that there was no “typical” espresso grinder in place. What’s going on?

The Mahl Konig EK43 – something I have only really seen at cafes when they grind for filter coffee.

I must confess, it was until I got back to Vienna and delved into the story of the EK43 in James Hoffmann book about his blog,  did I know about the issue concerning using the EK43 for grinding for espresso. It was really talked up and propagated a few years back by espresso/coffee guru Ben Kaminsky and even Prufrock were very excited about it, read here

In summary the debate says that using the EK43 (not built for grinding for espresso but ideally for spices and perhaps for filter coffee) not only minimises waste because you grind per cup but also that it grinds very evenly with little differentiation in grind size – this means that you can even lower the amount of coffee you use – they use about 16.5g as opposed to the industry average of 18-20g (I usually ask) which should result in a better tasting espresso. After all, most coffee aficionado fell in love with coffee through the espresso. In any case, there’s a few top cafes who were converted to do this avant garde way of grinding and hence brewing coffee and of course Maxwell is one of them.

Second, it was great to actually meet Maxwell himself. Usually when you visit emporiums of coffee, the owner or main driver is always not around, tending to some other business or on holiday – the one exception was Cameron of Flat White many moons ago. He was very welcoming and we talked about coffee (of course), their philosophy – they usually offer about three coffees per brew type; filter and espresso, where you can be guided by taste profiles. They try and source the best coffee that fits their preferences, so for example, surprise surprise for me, they roast for capsules – yes, you read that right. You can buy nespresso capsules roasted by one of the finest coffee roasters in the UK – I bought a box of 10 for my brother who has a nespresso machine. As they roast their own coffee in a town outside Bath, they can easily experiment with taste profiles for many styles – visit their “other” website for more about their coffee, see here. If you visit there are quite a lot of their coffees on sale and feel free to ask them for guidance. They even have a booklet on explaining their coffees and brewing methods.

and the coffee….

I opted for a flat white with a fruity profile – well balanced even with the milk, reminded me of hints of toffee like my coffee had evaporated milk added. On my second visit I went for a more “nutty” profile. I was really intrigued by their unique way of making Americanos but sadly I wasn’t able to make it – I thought it best to avoid the wrath of my mum and wife as my plan was to make colonna and smalls my last stop before catching the train back to London, but alas for next time God willing.

One more techie thing – the mod bar. I actually missed this new innovative way of brewing espresso because on my first visit I was so excited to meet with Maxwell, I didn’t go behind the bar to check what type of espresso brewing equipment they were using. On the second visit, as I had more time, I relaxed and had time to chat to the baristi and then I was introduced to the mod bar – short for modular brewing system.


In summary and borrowing from their website, it’s

espresso system consists of one espresso tap and one espresso module

Each Espresso Module controls one tap. Retailers have an opportunity to dial each Espresso Module to fit a different coffee. And they have options galore in how they fit the Modules to their retail set-up.

From what I saw, it looks fabulous – it’s like the next level of brewing espresso, where you can change the profiles using a button or touch screen per group head – state of the art – even though I am aware that the Slayer Espresso machine can do this provided that you are a very talented barista. At Colonna all the baristi have some kind of award so the skills are there but the fact that the mod bar group asked them to test it means something too.

As I left, I fell like a boy being dragged out of a toy shop, but I was after all in Bath to see other things and spend precious time with my family.

One more thing. It was really impressive to watch the barista prepare aeropress. He poured the freshly ground coffee into the aeropress capsule, poured a little bit of water, shook it around vigorously but carefully and as he did it, it bloomed and doubled in height, after which he poured more water, covered it and waited for it to complete the brewing process. I wished I filmed it so you can see what I meant, but it was really impressive.

Highly recommended – If you are looking for a beautiful city to visit in England and enjoy exceptional coffee and more, check them out at

Colonna & Smalls

6 Chapel Row, Bath,  UK.

My next post will be on drinking coffee in Bath – a beautiful city with tons of coffee culture.

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A Cupping Session in Vienna @ Furth Kaffee


This is like Part 2 of my previous post in which I visited Sussmund with an informal coffee society called the Specialty Coffee Society. After that event, I proposed that for our next session we try a cupping session. So I got in touch with Charlie Furth, a Vienna based roaster whom I have known for a while. In short, our kids went to kindergarten together many moons ago, when everyone knew me as a coffee fanatic – I left Vienna for three years to open my cafe in Cape Town, and upon returning Charlie told me guess what ? I’m now a coffee roaster.


In any case Charlie owns Furth Kaffee a coffee roastery, who supplies cafes like cafe la marche, whom I wrote about here. At a little spot on Kirchengasse 44 in the 7th district, Vienna a former barista has taken over the shared space and runs a small cafe, equipped with a La Marzocco GS3 and some small bites. You can also buy coffee and some gadgets. It was in this small spot we had our coffee cupping session. Alternatively, you can shop online at http://shop.fuerthkaffee.eu/home/


I managed to get about 10 people, mostly colleagues including some toddlers to join us one Saturday in late September for a 2 hour session to taste coffees from around the World from as far wide as Mexico, Peru, India, Indonesia to Ethiopia and Kenya, with a guiding lecture from Charlie, summarised as follows;

  • smell coffee in two separate cups to adjust for differentials
  • coffee ground very thick, using water at 92C
  • Smell coffee
  • break bloom
  • Taste coffee from both cups using the cupping method, slurp if you dare
  • assess what you like and don’t like


It was really intriguing to experience the different phases of the cupping experience from smell to taste. In fact some coffees that smelt nice, didn’t quite live up to the taste test. The Peru smelt like vanilla but when I tasted it, it was not quite as intriguing. 


Nevertheless, the Kenyan didn’t disappoint and in fact I’m thinking of going back to buy a bag of it. Most of my colleagues were really impressed as it was their first cupping session and bought some coffees to take home.

Ever grateful to Charlie for arranging this session and I’m now thinking about our next session…. hmm espresso tasting perhaps.

 

 


I was @ Sussmund Kaffeebar, Vienna


A few weeks back a colleague sent an e-mail inviting me and two other guys to meet for lunch because she had never met three people so passionate about coffee. she thought it a good idea to get some coffee geeks together – a great idea. Because before we knew it, we even had a name”Specialty Coffee Society” – we just need to check if we can officially create one at the UN in Vienna. Before you knew it we were exchanging ideas on coffee and just this past weekend we decided to check a cafe out to start our “coffee crawl” missions. So, we decided to try out Sussmund – which means “sweet mouth” in English – how appropriate.

To be honest I’ve heard about Sussmund for a while now. Started by Nikolaus Hartmann, the roaster – it focused firstly on selling roasted coffee to cafes and restaurants, and it still does. One of my fave cafes in Vienna, Cafe Jonas Reindl, usually has sussmund coffee on their grinder as their house blend. In fact for a few months they also had a pop up shop in the heart of Vienna, which I was lucky to visit and had a piccolo (made like a cortado)  see below, where I also met with Nikolaus and had a chat about how he started, his mission and vision too.


But I’m glad to report that at the moment they have a mainstay, Sussmund Kaffee just off the centre, located on Dominikanerbastei 11 • A-1010 Wien – opposite the iconic post office, designed by the renowned architect, Otto Wagner. The cafe is actually located inside a furniture concept store, so you can grab a cup of coffee and sit on designer furniture and relax – of course if you really like the furniture, you can buy it too.

A little smallish but they have all gadgets – the Black Eagle espresso machine, all the filter brewing options using their coffees, roasted coffee for sale and brewing gadgets and accessories.

To try out this espresso milk based skills – you know my pattern now – I tried a cortado using a fruity coffee from Ethiopia and my colleague followed suit. 


She was so intrigued that coffee could taste sweet and not need any sugar and more importantly leave a pleasant fell in her mouth – another convert made to the world of coffee can actually taste sweet and not bitter. In fact, I said that we don’t usually describe coffee as “bitter” but more appropriately, “sour”, running through the 5 taste elements of sweet, sour, salty, hot and finally umami. So, I digress come d’habitude.

For our second round we went full on filter, Hario V60 and Aeropress. I tried a berry medium acidity Guatemalan coffee, complimented by what I must say a rather French tasting croissant – i.e. it was really good. Also on offer, before I forget are chocolate brownie cakes, banana, walnut and chocolate bread, pastries and other treats.


Very laboratory orientated.

A nice brew, sweet and sour at the same time. I also waited for it to cool down to check if it would get more sour, but it didn’t, yay!


We really enjoyed the kaffee – it was Saturday, so very relaxed and before we knew it 2 hours had passed drinking coffee and getting to know each other. Looking forward to our next venture, which I hope will be a cupping session at another cafe, so watch this space for more on the Vienna Specialty Coffee Society.

Before I leave, of course, I recommend visiting Sussmund – check their website too here


I was @ Hornig Coffee: A new Coffee shop in Vienna


I came across a booklet highlighting all the happening shops and eateries in Vienna and when I saw a picture of a new coffeeshop in Vienna that I hadn’t heard off, I was excited mainly because they talked about their commitment to coffee and the picture showed an array of a brew bar complete with uber boiler, and V60 brewing stations. So, it was on my radar for my next coffee exploit.

Luckily for me, when I decided to visit on Saturday, 5 days back – a freshly brewed post – I digress, I was drawn to a little commotion just outside the shop on Siebensterngasse 29, in Vienna’s 7th district – people handing out freebies. As I got closer, I noticed it was cold brew coffee. When was the last time I walked down a street and people were handing out free coffee – like never. I thought, this is my lucky day. Asked if I wanted to taste, my answer was in my eyes. Excited, I tried some and started chatting to some of the staff and before I knew it was in full blown conversation with the owner, Johannes Hornig himself.



Very unassuming , down to earth and modest and willing to share as much info about their vision and aspirations, we chatted with a friend of mine for about a hour about coffee, the world, Brexit and more.
Before I delve into my coffee experience a bit about them.

So, it turns out that Hornig have been around for a while and have been drum roasting since 1912, over a 100 years of coffee experience. They are probably second only to the famous Julius Meinl Coffee roaster in terms of sales with a strong market share in the bottom/southern half of Austria, being located in Graz, Austria’s second largest city. They focus on direct trade coffee, visiting coffee growers mainly from Ethiopia, Brazil and Guatemala to ensure they source the best coffee possible and have a well developed online shop where you can buy their coffees. Although they have a huge client base, selling coffee to cafes and restaurants, training baristas too, their coffee shop in Vienna is their first and perhaps the first of many. CEO since 2015, Johannes IV (yes his father, grandfather and father were all called Johannes) plans to take them further.

so to the coffee….


First up, of course is their cold brew, apparently also available in some Austrian supermarkets. They use their Brazilian coffee as their base to ensure low to medium acidity, because as you know, when coffee gets cold, the sourness begins to dominate and if you use a very fruity or high acidity coffee it can become quite sour as it gets cold. So, an easy to drink cold brew that should satisfy most palates. I grabbed a bottle to take home and save for a late summer day in September to try over ice or as an indulgent dessert with ice cream.


To test their espresso milk based skills, I ordered a double shot cortado, prepared by their chief barista, Barbara, for which they used their house espresso blend (80% Brazilian and 20% Guatemala). So, I detected a nutty base with an underlying fruitiness, which is what I experienced in the middle of my tongue.

So, I’ve saved the best for last – a filter brew using their Ethiopian coffee, a natural Arabica coffee variety of Illubabor Diduon, grown at over 1,800m, produced in a very small batches, close to 5-6 tonnes a year – apparently the minimum quantity as I was informed by Johannes, who has personally met the farmer himself. I asked for it to be brewed on the Hario V60. Wow! the tastes were quite exceptional, like a carnival in your mouth – floral, fruity spice bomb.

See PIC on top as my phone crashed and I lost all my other pics….

I was so intrigued by it, sipping it slowly until it got cooler. I asked Johannes about it and he explained how it had been sourced and how he had met the farmer. I didn’t leave the shop, without buying a bag to take home.

Also on offer in the shop are sandwiches, other drinks and some sweet bites, banana bread, brownies and others – I had a lemon slice, reminiscent of the sort I find in London coffee shops. At the moment they open everyday until 8pm, which I think is the latest any decent coffee shop opens in Vienna – good to know if I’m on the way to the movies and need a decent cuppa to get me through.

So, I’m happy to see another third wave coffee shop open in Vienna, where you can try  coffee in different ways.

Visit their online shop to learn here

They are located at Siebensterngasse 29, 1070, not far from Mariahilfer Strasse – one of the main shopping streets in Vienna


The Tasting Files II: Good Coffee


This is like a prelude or prequel to my first post, because I think my palate got so used to tasting good coffee, I was beginning to take it for granted. Perhaps that’s why I decided to venture outside my comfort zone of world class roasters like Square mile coffee, JB Kaffee, Workshop Coffee, Balthasar-Vienna, Tim Wendelboe and the like and try something different. I wanted to challenge my coffee palate and see if I could detect a pronounced difference.

So, after my previous post, where I tasted coffee from a tin, highlight the high and lows of my experience, I defaulted to my comfort zone. So, what does good coffee taste like ?


It tastes good. Is that it ?  Okay, here’s more…

It smells good – when my son was much younger, like about 5 – although he didn’t like coffee and still doesn’t – only my daughter followed my path – he got excited when he saw new bags of coffee in the house because he loved squeezing the vacuum outlet to ingest the lovely aroma. I liken children, at least under 10 to be like angels – they know the good stuff when they see it, or in this case, smell it. 

The roasters usually describe their coffee in very exotic terms – I recall the old and original square mile coffee bags with large type-write of the predominant taste profiles. In fact, back then, the best coffee roasters had the best bags. You got excited, just by looking and touching them.

Before I continue…. there’s a downside if I can call it one.

Good coffee is so precious that when you try to find the right type of grind for espresso, so that you pull a great shot of about 45ml in 20-25 seconds, etc, you want to ,make sure you get it right the first time, because otherwise you’re just throwing good coffee away – aargh! I think that is why I got a bit excited with espresso but more so with filter grind, as you can’t really get the wrong type of grind – you can tweak it, but you don’t have to throw away 15g of coffee as opposed to 18-20 grammes of espresso grind coffee every time you get it wrong.

so may be there’s two downsides….

espresso grind is so temperamental that it changes so slightly with the weather, especially in the summer. One night, it’s a bit cooler and a grind setting just works – the next morning as you’re rushing to work and don’t have time to check settings, the coffee rushes out, leaving you with a sharp tasting daily cappuccino – aargh! Okay, not so filter grind with a hario V60.

Let’s move on and taste this thing.

Once you get used to good and great tasting coffee, it just seems right – everything is balanced – by this I mean there’s no unusual taste trying to break out of your taste bud system like corn when it pops in the microwave. I think this is probably one of the best judgement of good coffee – BALANCE.

sure, sometimes something strikes you and you’re like “what is that?” BUT it’s a pleasant kind of feeling that bring a smile to your face and if you believe you just say “praise God!” as He was the source of creating such a beautiful thing that can taste so different, albeit look so ordinary.


Good coffee caresses your taste buds – your whole mouth enjoys the experience – it wraps around your tongue and travels from the top of the tongue to the back of your tongue with different taste profiles – the experience is just wow! How can something taste one way at the beginning and another at the end – I remember the first time I tasted Intelligentisia Black Cat Espresso Blend over 10 years ago – see here.

Good coffee lasts  and great coffee lasts even longer. By this I mean after drinking the coffee you can still experience it, sometimes up to 30 minutes after. In fact that’s why I never drink water or eat anything after drinking coffee – I don’t want to spoil the experience. I don’t recall any other drink or food still giving me a tasty experience after I’ve consumed it.


Good coffee leaves you wanting – by this I mean once all those high notes have been reached, you just default to whatever coffee or roaster helped you experience that. I guess that’s how you create a great customer base – get it right the first time and all the time and they’ll keep coming back.

I think that’s enough for now. Never take anything good for granted, especially coffee. Perhaps that;s why my wife calls me a coffee snob – I just can’t compromise on drinking bad coffee and trust me, whenever I’ve slipped, I’ve regretted it and I suffer on two accounts – a screaming tongue followed by an angst stomach. It’s just not worth it.

Well done to all those great coffee roasters who do their jib well and keep up the standard.

Peace!

 

 


The Tasting Files: Coffee from a Tin


Sometimes you get so used to something, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone and drinking good coffee is no exception. So, I was thinking “does all good coffee taste the same” and dare I say it “good coffee tastes the same”. So, when I miscalculated my coffee ordering and buying regime, I popped into a shop and thought, may be I should try this coffee from a tin again that people (non-coffee connoisseurs) are always saying to me, “you should try this”, so I picked up coffee from a tin, aka Illy coffee. 


Before I share my experience, it must be said that I used to buy Illy coffee many years ago, both the espresso and filter versions. So how was my experience after about 9 years;

First up, the packaging is nice – it’s like a nice thing to give away as a present or decorate your kitchen with.

Second, once you open the tin for the first time, I have to confess, the aroma is actually breath taking – it kind of takes you back to a cafe in Italy – it’s literally “Italian caffe culture in a tin”.

Third, it looks good. By this, I mean the crema is reddish brown, which means that a properly extracted espresso will look great and a well crafted cappuccino will look good because it will be easy to pour properly frothed milk to make lovely looking patterns with a great contrast of dark reddish cream and silky white milk.


Fourthly, it is not that difficult to extract a perfect espresso. The Illy blend of apparently 9 coffees from around the World, mainly Brazil, is not complicated and for consistency sake, you won’t have to make any major adjustments to the grinder as the coffee gets older.


Now, how about the most important part… the taste. For the sake of not being sued, the taste won’t make your taste buds sing if like me, you have been used to ordering coffee from the top micro coffee roasters in the World – there you go, I missed my regular coffee roasters stash.

Illy coffee will smell nice, pull easily, look great as an espresso and a cappuccino but may not taste nice – no pun intended here.

As usual, I don’t regret things nor experiences as they only add to life’s experiences. I’m grateful for the experience of tasting Illy coffee again after so many years, using a great espresso machine.


I was @ %Arabica, Dubai Mall – Dubai


I always knew that using a name like “arabica” for a cafe in an area predominantly occupied by Arabs would be a winner. In fact when I was debating whether to open cafe in Cape Town or Dubai back in 2009, the name I had tried to approach potential investors for Dubai was… “Cafe Arabica”. I thought back then and it has proven now as you will see in a few lines below that people will resonate well with an establishment that recognises their identity and their pace in the World – in this case, the world of coffee. So, now we have here a new brand,  %Arabica, which incidentally is Japanese – with their first coffee shop in Kyoto and now expanding to the Gulf, venturing into the most avant grade venue of the Arab world, Dubai and more specifically in the largest mall in the World, Dubai Mall.

I had already heard of this brand about a year ago, when they liked one of my coffee pics on Instagram and then I found out that they were going to open a coffee shop at the Dubai Mall in May 2016 – this seemed to have been postponed until September 2016 and so I knew that once given the opportunity to visit Dubai again, then I would head there, which is what I did in early February.

Located downstairs, just around the corner from the aquarium in Dubai Mall – thus is important because the mall is huge, and on the way to the Souk, opposite Sacoor Brothers is Arabica%.

As you enter, they’ve tried to escape the typical chain mall coffee shop feeling with cold decor and dotted place with coffee bean sacks, brown communal tables and chairs to give you that kind of authentic feel, alluding to their artisanal vibe – we are serious about coffee and if you are looking for Starbuck, head right back out.


They’ve got the kind of brew bar you would find in serious coffee shops in London, New York or Melbourne; 2 x two group slayer espresso machines, matching 2 group mazzer grinders, uber boiler and all the brew options of chemed, V60, etc.


You are prompted to order with a coffee menu, which impatient customers ignore and just ask for “a Latte”. There menu is impressive – they have their house blends but also some special 90+ beans, which will set you back $20 or more for a cup. However, although I think the is great for coffee lovers like me, it may be wise if they had more experienced staff on hand to explain why this latte or filter brew costs $5 and this one costs upwards of $20. I know “geisha” and 90+ coffees are expensive due to their taste profiles, rarity and relatively low production, but for someone just making the conversion from mass style chains to speciality coffee, they need to know that this isn’t just another gimmick.

On that last point, when I placed my order, I decided to go off the list and ask for a Cortado, coupled with some questions on bean origin. I hasten to add a proviso – if someone like me walks into a speciality coffee shop and see all the gadgets and understand all the coffee language, then my expectations are raised in that I expect the staff to be able to handle some basic questions. I did hesitate however on asking them to adjust the brew and pressure gauges like I usually do at Balthasar (Vienna), but that was only because the place was quite busy – my point about the word “Arabica”. On hearing that I wasn’t the typical customer, the head barista,Yash (who I found out later was formerly of Common Grounds, Mall of Emirates and UAE aeropress champion) decided that he would attend to me. During which time we briefly chatted about their focus and about his background and mine.

Ah! one cortado.

On the clientele, it was predominantly locals, Emiratis, dotted with passer byes and coffee aficionados judging by their orders.

After my cup, I decided to walk over and ask some more questions about their coffee, roast profiles etc (I’m sure if my wife was with me, her eyes would have rolled up, followed by a  sigh), but yet again it was Yash to the rescue. After convincing me to buy their house blend which is dark roasted (I am usually not a fan of dark roasted oily beans) and offering me a 90+ espresso shot, I bought a bag of beans, exchanged instagram addresses and was on my way.

In summary, Arabica is a welcome addition to Dubai Mall, which although gigantic, I’ve managed to become accustomed to getting around it without too much difficulty. I’m loving the concept that people are taking their coffee seriously and that even though their many customers might not know it up front, this is a small step in changing peoples perception of coffee. You no longer have to drive out into industrial complexes to get coffee and for tourists like me who don’t have easy access to road transportation, it is great to know that by using the Dubai Metro to the largest mall in the World, you don’t have to suffer with chain coffee but can get a good cuppa, even up till midnight – yes! they close at midnight – now this has to be one of the very few places in the World you can get speciality coffee at close to midnight. The jury might still be out on my “best coffee shop in a mall” award, recently given to Common Grounds (Mall of Emirates – see here), but I think Arabica could be a good contender and will fall in second for now. Nevertheless they are planning a massive expansion in 2017, with new shops planned for the whole Gulf area, Germany, France, USA and even England, so watch out for them.

Well done Arabica for the name and concept and I look forward to visiting many times when I visit Dubai insha’allah.